Writing this from the comfort of my flat, in London, just as many people are tweeting about their upcoming flight from “#mozlondon”—such a blissful post-all Hands travel experience for once!
Note: #mozlondon was a Mozilla all hands which was held in London last week. And since everything is quite social networked nowadays, the “#mozlondon” tag was chosen. Previous incarnations: mozlando (for Orlando), mozwww (for Vancouver’s “Whistler Work Week” which made for a very nice mountainous jagged tag), and mozlandia (because it was held in Portland, and well, Portlandia. Obviously!)
I always left previous all hands feeling very tired and unwell in various degrees. There’s so much going on, in different places, and there’s almost no time to let things sink in your brain (let alone in your stomach as you quickly brisk from location to location). The structure of previous editions also didn’t really lend itself very well to collaboration between teams—too many, too long plenaries, very little time to grab other people’s already exhausted attention.
This time, the plenaries were shortened and reduced in number. No long and windy “inspirational” keynotes, and way more room for arranging our own meetings with other teams, and for arranging open sessions to talk about your work to anyone interested. More BarCamp style than big and flashy, plus optional elective training sessions in which we could learn new skills, related or not to our area of expertise.
I’m glad to say that this new format has worked so much better for me. I actually was quite surprised that it was going really well for me half-way during the week, and being the cynic that I sometimes am, was expecting a terrible blow to be delivered before the end of the event. But… no.
We have got better at meetings. Our team meeting wasn’t a bunch of people interrupting each other. That was a marvel! I loved that we got things done and agreements and disagreements settled in a civilised manner. The recipe for this successful meeting: have an agenda, a set time, and a moderator, and demand one or more “conclusions” or “action items” after the meeting (otherwise why did you meet?), and make everyone aware that time is precious and running out, to avoid derailments.
We also met with the Servo team. With almost literally all of them. This was quite funny: we had set up a meeting with two or three of them, and other members of the team saw it in somebody else’s calendar and figured a meeting to discuss Servo+DevRel sounded interesting, so they all came, out of their own volition! It was quite unexpected, but welcome, and that way we could meet everyone and put faces to IRC nicknames in just one hour. Needless to say, it’s a great caring team and I’m really pleased that we’re going to work together during the upcoming months.
I also enjoyed the elective training sessions.
I went to two training sessions on Rust; it reminded me how much fun “systems programming” can be, and made me excited about the idea of safe parallelism (among other cool stuff). I also re-realised how hard programming and teaching programming can be as I confronted my total inexperience in Rust and increasing frustration at the amount of new concepts thrown at me in such a short interval—every expert on any field should regularly try learning something new every now and then to bring some ‘humility’ back and replenish the empathy stores.
The people sessions were quite long and extenuating and had a ton of content in 3 hours each, and after them I was just an empty hungry shell. But a shell that had learned good stuff!
One was about having difficult conversations, navigating conflict, etc. I quickly saw how many of my ways had been wrong in the past (e.g. replying to a hurt person with self-defense instead of trying to find why they were hurt). Hopefully I can avoid falling in the same traps in the future! This is essential for so many aspects in life, not only open source or software development; I don’t know why this is not taught to everyone by default.
The second session was about doing good interviews. In this respect, I was a bit relieved to see that my way of interviewing was quite close to the recommendations, but it was good to learn additional techniques, like the STAR interview technique. Which surfaces an irony: even “non-technical” skills have a technique to them.
A note to self (that I’m also sharing with you): always make an effort to find good adjectives that aren’t a negation, but a description. E.g. in this context “people sessions” or “interpersonal skills sessions” work so much better and are more descriptive and specific than “non-technical” while also not disrespecting those skills because they’re “just not technical”.
A thing I really liked from these two sessions is that I had the chance to meet people from areas I would not have ever met otherwise, as they work on something totally different from what I work on.
The session on becoming a more senior engineer was full of good inspiration and advice. Some of the ideas I liked the most:
- as soon as you get into a new position, start thinking of who should replace you so you can move on to something else in the future (so you set more people in a path of success). You either find that person or make it possible for others to become that person…
- helping people be successful as a better indicator of your progress to seniority than being very good at coding
- being a good generalist is as good as being a good specialist—different people work differently and add different sets of skills to an organisation
- but being a good specialist is “only good” if your special skill is something the organisation needs
- changing projects and working on different areas as an antidote to burn out
- don’t be afraid to occasionally jump into something even if you’re not sure you can do it; it will probably grow you!
- canned projects are not your personal failure, it’s simply a signal to move on and make something new and great again, using what you learned. Most of the people on the panel had had projects canned, and survived, and got better
- if a project gets cancelled there’s a very high chance that you are not going to be “fired”, as there are always tons of problems to be fixed. Maybe you were trying to fix the wrong problem. Maybe it wasn’t even a problem!
- as you get more senior you speak less to machines and more to people: you develop less, and help more people develop
- you also get less strict about things that used to worry you a lot and turn out to be… not so important! you also delegate more and freak out less. Tolerance.
- I was also happy to hear a very clear “NO” to programming during every single moment of your spare time to prove you’re a good developer, as that only leads to burn out and being a mediocre engineer.
I designed this week with the full intent of making the most of it while still keeping healthy. These are my strategies for future reference:
- A week before: I spent time going through the schedule and choosing the sessions I wanted to attend.
- I left plenty of space between meetings in order to have some “buffer” time to process information and walk between venues (the time pedestrians spend in traffic lights is significantly higher than you would expect). Even then, I had to rush between venues more than once!
- I would not go to events outside of my timetable – no late minute stressing over going to an unexpected session!
- If a day was going to be super busy on the afternoon, I took it easier on the morning
- Drank lots of water. I kept track of how much, although I never met my target, but I felt much better the days I drank more water.
- Avoided the terrible coffee at the venues, and also caffeine as much as possible. Also avoided the very-nice-looking desserts, and snacks in general, and didn’t eat a lot because why, if we are just essentially sitting down all day?
- Allowed myself a good coffee a day–going to the nice coffee places I compiled, which made for a nice walk
- Brought layers of clothes (for the venues were either scorching hot and humid or plainly freezing) and comfy running trainers (to walk 8 km a day between venues and rooms without developing sore feet)
- Saying no to big dinners. Actively seeking out smaller gatherings of 2-4 people so we all hear each other and also have more personal conversations.
- Saying no to dinner with people when I wasn’t feeling great.
The last points were super essential to being socially functional: by having enough time to ‘recharge’, I felt energised to talk to random people I encountered in the “Hallway track”, and had a number of fruitful conversations over lunch, drinks or dinner which would otherwise not have happened because I would have felt aloof.
I’m now tired anyway, because there is no way to not get tired after so many interactions and information absorbing, but I am not feeling sick and depressed! Instead I’m just thinking about what I learnt during the last week, so I will call this all hands a success! 🎉